Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Empirical Look at 2015's Top Metal Releases

2015 is over, and the many year-end "best metal albums of 2015" lists are an easy way to discover new bands. To get a better sense of the big picture though, I gathered data from 47 different year end lists and put the results of that data into the graphs below. Like last year's article, I'm not pretending that this is scientifically rigorous. But since it combines lists from 47 different authors and polls, this is probably the most representative and objective information available about what are considered to be 2015's top metal albums.

Top 2015 Metal Releases:

This graph shows the top 18 metal releases for 2015, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These 18 bands made up 32% of the top ten list occurrences. In other words, they showed up 151 times out of the 470 potential slots (47 websites with 10 entries each). The top 6 bands made up 16% of the top ten list occurrences.

Ghost's Meliora took the top spot, appearing on 29.79% of the lists. Interestingly, last year, four bands were higher than this percentage and Behemoth's The Satanist appeared on 37.5% of the 2014 lists. This year the leading bands weren't quite so dominant.

Here are the top releases in list format:

Ghost - Meliora 
Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
Tribulation - Children of the Night
Mgła - Exercises in Futility
High on Fire - Luminiferous
Baroness - Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
Cattle Decaptitation - The Anthropocene of Extinction
Horrendous - Anareta
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Panopticon - Autumn Eternal
Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic
Enslaved - In Times
Intronaut - The Direction of Last Things
Lamb of God - VII: Sturm Und Drang
Myrkur - M
Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors
Slayer - Repentless

Top 2015 Metal Sub-Genres:

This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. In fact, having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin. This 41.7% is a jump from last year's 30.25% rate for what I've labeled as hybrid genres.

In pure genre terms, black metal was the most popular this year. You'll also notice that non-metal releases were more popular than almost all of the sub-genres. Non-metal releases also jumped from 2014's 12% to 17% this year. As I explain in the methodology below, genres information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives.

Top 2015 Record Labels:

1/13/2016 Update: The Prior Version of this Chart Inadvertently Omitted 20 Buck Spin

The third and final graph here shows which record labels were most common on the year end lists. Like last year, Nuclear Blast Records and Century Media Records are basically neck and neck and are the clearly the most dominant labels in these lists. An interesting tidbit from that data that isn't shown here is how labels vary in how many bands contributed to their success. Loma Vista Recordings is here only because of Ghost, where a more diversified label like Napalm Records had nine different bands contributing to their success.

I did not attach label data to non-metal bands because this graph is intended to illustrate the degree of record label dominance in the world of metal. The above 22 labels together took up 60.43% of the 470 available year end list slots. Nuclear Blast and Century Media consisted of 16.8%, down from last year's 20%. The cut off here is at the .85% level to keep the graph reasonably readable.

For those interested in economics, if you were to view the top-ten releases as their own separate market, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index for the above labels would be .0254, indicating a competitive market, and one that is more competitive than last year's.

Notes on My Methods:
  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • In an attempt to avoid imputing my own taste biases, the vast majority of the websites were selected from the top google search results (with cookies/tracking disabled) for terms like “top/best 2015 metal” and the like.
  • I excluded mid-year lists, sub-genre lists, worst-of, and “most underrated” type lists.
  • I accessed 47 websites because this was about as many as I could find by using the above method and by adding lists from websites I personally read.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, I included it.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. I excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • I gathered label data only on metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below. Yes we know that many of them are awful websites with even worse taste, but there are a lot of good ones in there too.

God: 12.24.45 - 12.28.15

To Lemmy
"Motorhead was the first band I ever saw live. 2003, Motorhead, Dio, Iron Maiden at Madison Square garden. I wasn't familiar with any of the bands at the time. I went to the show with my friend Ryan who was a couple grades older than me in high school. All I can remember was how nonchalant Lemmy was on stage. He came, he played, he conquered, stoic in front of so many crazy fans. Just Loud, and massive, and the grit could scrape enamel off steel. The total counterpoint to Dio and Maiden that night. I remember seeing them a few years ago and they were still the loudest band I've ever heard. Consistency is a virtue in metal, and Lemmy exemplified it both personally and professionally. I can't imagine metalheads in the future not having some experience or memory of Motorhead outside of the music they left behind. Its almost a rite of passage to see Motorhead. Who will take that place now? There aren't many left. The adage that if Motorhead moved next door, your lawn would die must certainly ring true, because now that Lemmy's moved to the great next door, it seems like all the grass in town has begun to die off. That might be due to the appearance - finally - of cold weather here in the northeast, or the endless rain we've had drowning everything, but I'd like to think that cold weather and rain is also Lemmy's doing. One last big middle finger to all of us, of course, in jest. The world is a far less honest place going forward."

- Orion

"Lemmy lived fast and went further. He lived the lifestyle, and he stayed with it until the end. So many times in his life, others would have stopped, but Lemmy lived rock and roll. He was playing every night last year, and taking two nights off was a big deal. Guys 10-20 years younger than him take a night or two off between each show. Most folks quit by their mid-20s, while Lemmy joined Hawkwind then. By 30, he was out of the band but kept going. Around 40, the whole Motorhead lineup turned over in a few years. Many other rockers quit the lifestyle in one way or another even if they kept playing their old music. Lemmy never quit the lifestyle, playing every night on tour until the end. He rocked in England before the British invasion, and he's the only guy who saw it through and through for the next 50 years.
Live fast and live long."

- Steve

"Lemmy was one of a kind. A man that owned whatever room he was in no matter if it was a massive amphitheater or a tiny room. When he got up on stage with his Rickenbacker it was larger than life. Even with his lifestyle being hard and fast for most of his life he still managed to keep going until he was well into his 60's. He lived for his music, and to have everyone in the crowd experience true rock and roll. Louder, faster, and dirtier than anyone else. The blueprint for ever metal band to come. There will never be another Lemmy, another Motorhead. Celebrate the good times that were had. Play it fucking loud. Have a few beers, shots, or whatever else you want. Do it for the god that walked the earth for 70 years that never compromised on anything."

- Atomic Destructor From Hell (Maximum Oversatan

"As long as I have been a Metal fan Motorhead have been there. I got into them when I was in 4th grade after hearing their praise from like every other band I already liked. My brother and I would stay up late on Saturdays and watch Headbanger's Ball, pretty much from the first time I saw a Motorhead vid on there I was sold. I ended up getting 1916 upon it's release, and it was my BIG album of that summer, though Overkill has always been my fav. They have in one way or another (either musically or attitudewise) been a foundational structure of just about every single band I've ever played in. I've also had the fortune of having 9/10 bandmates who loved them as well. It's typical to say whenever any musician passes that the world has lost a giant, but we really did this time. Lemmy liked to party but he wasn't some pathetic junkie who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's and overstayed his welcome, nor was he a cartoon character in a costume for a joke band who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's but the rest of the world took seriously. He was the true King of Rock N' Roll, and the throne will now remain empty forever. Rock and Metal as productive genres have been dead to me for quite some time now, but this was indeed the final nail in the coffin. There are no more heroes. R.I.P. Lemmy, the world is fucked without you......"

- Mike Keller (Sacrificial Blood, Maximum Oversatan

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Legion of Thor - Complete Discography

This isn't normally something I'd review, but curiosity and duty called and required a listen. The band's genre was reported as being incorrect on Metal Archives, and it stood out, though not for good reasons. I knew the band solely from this comment by admin Azmodes:

"Just FYI, that band is blacklisted for being "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see... :ugh:"

As Tom G. Warrior said, "are you morbid?" Morbidly curious, that's for sure. Full disclosure, this all sucks. 

Winds of Change (1999)

Legion of Thor started out as a punk band before later shifting to a metalcore/deathcore style. This album is almost entirely simple power chord punk played over a drum machine, no nice punk basslines or anything fancy. I'd guess the main influences are Skrewdriver and Landser - LoT play a similar, minimal form of hardcore punk/RAC, though this lacks the anthemic feel of RAC. The essence of RAC, as those bands played it, was shouting the message - big choruses shouting a simple phrase, the music focused on the vocalist, since the lyrics are the focus. LoT have none of that. The vocals have no charisma, they're just boring, sharp shouts. They don't lead the music, nothing really does, and the guitars overwhelm the vocals in the mix. I suppose it's about attitude, but it's got a shitty attitude and no character, so what's the point?

2000 (2000)

Legion of Thor's second album is an improvement on the first in many ways, though not much better. The guitar tone is a bit thicker, which conceals the drum machine a little. Still hardcore punk in nature, the guitars now have a metallic flair with muted chugs to accentuate riffs, even some guitar solos. There's even some semblance of hooks in the guitars, though not nearly enough to redeem this. The vocals are up front - gruff shouts reminiscent of Landser. Once again, they fail to lead the music. There's just no charisma here, they don't even attempt the anthemic shouts and sick sing-alongs that are normally highlights of their kin. They don't even go for the signature backing shouts of Oi/street punk/RAC or whatever you want to call it. It's just brash and boorish with no charm to it. I guess this sort of stuff was pushed by ideologically driven labels at the time, just for the sake of having their own music to legitimize their ideology in young minds. I'll just look back on it for the incoherent shit that it is.

Blood, Pride, Pain (2000)

After releasing two albums of the world's most boring hardcore/RAC, Legion of Thor took a quick turn when they seem to have discovered the contemporary NS scene in Germany. Tacky artwork was replaced by a painting from a Games Workshop book on dwarves (take that, symbolically, as you will) and the album introduced by the clanking swords of battle, and outroduced by a folky acoustic guitar bit. It seems they discovered Absurd, Aryan Blood, and Totenburg, perhaps even foreign influences such as Graveland! These elements provide the frame for a new era of Legion of Thor...

...which sounds more or less like their previous album, only the guitarist got a lot better at chugging. Most of this album seems fairly thrashy as a result, a hardcore punk band getting really aggressive on the chugging parts in addition to power chord riffs. Aside from the intro/outro and an infusion of gallops and melody on the second track, this isn't much more than the same old punk band this always was with a newfound tremolo/chugging attack. The drum machine is now programmed with double bass to complement the guitars, and it's better masked in the mix, but it hardly improves the music. The vocalist is still a hoarse barker so devoid of personality that he could suck the hate out of a Skrewdriver anthem. This band still sucks, even though they've found a streak of new blood to imitate.

The 4th Crusade (2004)

After a rapid evolution from simple punk to thrash-tinged metalcore seemingly driven by an improvement in guitar picking technique, Legion of Thor leapt forward to a more modern style with a heavy emphasis on downtuned chugging and palm muting. That is to say, their style started to sound like mallcore. From the harmonics in "Berlin" to the awful System of a Down cover, this band has found a new way to be terrible.

The puzzling thing is that the band still doesn't bring in any of the strong qualities of what they are clearly imitating. The 90s-style metalcore chugging is slurred but has no character, the d-beats have no swing, and the chugs have no groove. They can't even pull off a breakdown, as sad as that is. The songs aren't anthemic or catchy like most RAC, the heaviness feels lethargic rather than energetic like hardcore could be. The performances are tight enough that it isn't an accident, but this sounds like a garage rock band where the only time they seem to be trying to express anything is a handful of squibbly leads.

The persistent mediocrity through four albums shows how this style was manufactured and marketed on ideology, while the music itself was reheated chop suey. Ugh, no pun intended.

Amen (2006)

In case you were ever wondering if NS deathcore was as bad as it sounds... yes, it is.

This is a mix of dirty, slurred groove/death metal riffs and deathcore breakdowns that are puzzlingly reminiscent of punchdafuckup mallcore. The former is like a dumbed down modern Napalm Death, the latter like a retarded Soulfly clone. For all the downtuned chuggy mallcore feeling here, the vocalist is still grunting background noise and can't even work out a hook, nor can anyone else in the band. How the fuck is this band on their fifth album and still this bad? They can't even copy the templates of the shit they're aping - they lack the bounce of mallcore, the groove of any sorta death/groove/grind, the aggression of metal, the catchy hate of RAC. They have none of it, just limp, slurred downtuned guitars and low grunts. This is a band who has repeatedly failed to ape others throughout their "career" and this bad? They can't even channel their hate/angst into their NS deathcore. How the fuck does that even work?

It doesn't.

Feuer & Flamme (2009)

Continuing their evolution into sounding slightly better while still creating shit music, Legion of Thor play a pretty tight and heavy beatdown hardcore/nu-metal hybrid. The latter is purely for the phat chugz, because these bozos still don't have an ounce of radio rock sensibility. They hardly have a sense of how breakdowns work either, diving headlong into long stretches of chugging interspersed with guitar squeals and gang vocals while not being very effective at getting there. Rather than buildup up energy and breaking it down with beatdown sections, this is more breakdown than not, and the contrasting sections don't really make any sense within the songs. Most of a song will be a breakdown, and there will be an odd, out-of-place section in the middle.

The second half of the album has a fair number of melodic metalcore riffs, and while the riffs and songwriting are still poor, it is pretty standout in such a mediocre discography. There's half a dozen songs here which could probably moshed to. Legion of Thor could've been a legit D-list local hardcore opener five years before this album came out.

Wir Wollen Leben (2013)

It isn't every day that I get to soapbox about a bunch of cultural appropriation by a group of German Nazis, but these guys couldn't be any worse at jacking Hatebreed riffs and aping New England metalcore/melodeath. True, I was raised on scattershot melodeath riffs with random breakdowns, but I haven't got the slightest clue what these guys are doing with them, though this has the most variety of their discography. Maybe their imitation of European bands simply reminds me of local bands imitating European bands, but this band's whole discography astounds me as they've been at it for over a decade and still sound like amateurs a decade behind their time.

While they lead the album off with more breakdown-oriented stuff, the majority of this album sounds like every teenage kid I knew who figured out how to play string skipping melodic riffs (think "Slaughter of the Soul") interspersed with tremolo picking, interrupted by breakdowns before a few parts could be sensibly strung together. The songs have no structure - there's no verse/chorus structure, they don't build up to breakdowns, they don't frame the anthems of the hardcore gang vocals, and they certainly don't have the interwoven melodic structures of early At the Gates. Oh yeah, and have I mentioned the random Hitler samples? I think it is apparent that the band have never played for a crowd either, because the vocalist has less charisma than a rusted-out Volkswagen and the drum machine stands out here more than ever, with bonky samples punching through more than the guitars.

As the great philosopher Azmodes once said, "that band is "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see..." So please, Legion of Thor, stop stealing my state's culture and playing crappy, utterly derivative metalcore.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Plutonian Shore - Sphere Of Geburah

My experience with Plutonian Shore prior to Sphere of Geburah is their previous very good early Satyricon inspired material from the Alchemical Manifestations split with A Transylvanian Funeral. Here, we get a full length release of material similar, though matured and more vicious. Twisting songs drag the listener through intense black metal landscapes. Tremolo guitar riffs adorn the release like baubles; plenty of detail and subtlety make this a rich listening experience - even with shorter than normal black metal song lengths - that does not immediately relinquish the numerous secrets hidden among what is a lively production. Distant guitars, prominent drums, audible bass, more passion, and clarity without being overly polished effect naturality.

Opening with "Infinite Womb", material draws influences from modern US black metal into the material however without the detrimental tinge of being a copycat of trends. Somewhere between Dissection and early Immortal in riff style, Plutonian Shore should appeal to a wide variety of black metal fans. My only complaint was the dialing back of 'symfonia' compared to what I remember. Modern USBM influences are obvious in the pummeling bombast of the drums. Atmosphere has been thrown to the wind in favor of sheer power. There is an overall immediacy to the album, with plenty of shorter songs, punctuated with a large quantity of ideas. Plutonian Shore have compressed what takes average black metal bands six or seven minutes to get across into half that time without sacrificing the feel of the material. This is evidenced right by the start with "Infinite Womb." Only a couple riffs repeat more than twice giving a decisive feel.

"Sphere of Geburah" leads off with a vicious tremolo descending phrase after the devious melodies of "Chains of Being" finally culminate. Plutonian Shore have ensured that each song flows appropriately into each other by differentiating melodies and riffs at the transitional moments between songs. Some songs do have similar sounding progressions but their proximity across the album prevents blurring. This isn't entirely true in regards to the percussion, which isn't as varied or mixed. While some tracks such as the previously mentioned "Chain of Being" and "At The Gates of Daath" have some more accentuated drum parts, and "Fiery Splendor" and album highlight "The Burial And The Liberation" make use of more moderately paced beats, a lot of the album is blasting. Drummer Gorgon shows his talent by way of endurance and the execution of his numerous drum fills but additional unique patterns would have helped some songs stand out more.

"Serpent's Ascension" includes some subtle vocal overdubs. Zvs Gastelum's voice is raspy, rich, and commanding. Most of the album's vocals are in the mid-range of black metal growls, though at times Zvs does reach towards higher screeches to emphasize certain moments in a more theatrical manner. "At The Gates of Daath" begins the final three tracks - two of which are my favorites on this release - utilizing this technique over tense traditional black metal riffing. The album culminates with the masterful "The Burial and the Liberation." A more mid-paced track, it sets a nice contrast to the rest of the album's pace. The dropped tempo lasts for only a couple minutes, as the track does speed up halfway through. Ringing notes, an atmosphere of finality, and foreboding of dread all emanate strongly from "The Burial..." as well as much of the rest of the album. Strong black metal worth becoming familiar with.

Spectral Voice / Blood Incantation - Spectral Voice / Blood Incantation Split 7"

Infected 7" Artwork courtesy of Manifester

This split 7" was picked up at this year's Martyrdoom fest. Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice both bombarded the crowd with their slick versions of death metal. Both bands linger stylistically in the early 90's era of death metal when slowed down doom influenced riffs started seeping out of the woodwork like termites. While both bands here point to influences from the common Swedish brands, additional subtle decorations adorn each band's offering. Also worth noting is how closely linked the bands are in other notable facets: Both hail from Colorado and both have a confluence of similar members including Paul Riedl, Morris Kolontyrsky, and Jeff Barrett.

Blood Incantation rips through "Mephitic Effluvia" like a scavenger through a carcass. Riffs are punctuated by tasty melodic leads. Though not as experimental or narrative, the mixture of tempos, highlights, and deep throaty vocals rekindle memories of hearing Timeghoul's Tumultous Travelings for the first time. This is coated with a gentle natural production that is warm in tone but sharply emphasizes Barrett's masterful fretless bass playing. The sole non-Spectral Voice member, Isaac Faulk, is calculated on drums who prefers to underpin the material offered with recognizable simplicity instead of continuous flair and complexity in the same way Bolt Thrower pummels us with practical percussive attacks instead of overzealous bombast. The whole mash brews a wonderful fermented death metal concoction.

Side B of the split, Spectral Voice, churns eerily and tensely before getting their tracks rolling through the death metal muck. The slow intro might be considered overkill but once the Vastum-esque stomp is enacted "(Slowly) Claimed By Oblivion" grows into a fierce tempest, sloshing bits and pieces of soggy guitar movements into your ear-wall. Ironically, Spectral Voice is the slower piece here, with a healthy dosage of funeral doom poking through, especially near the fifth-minute 'cool-down' where steely guitar tones reverberate through ringing distorted chords until culmination. While "(Slowly)..." may be the more memorable track due to it's atmosphere, I don't think that the Spectral Voice track is quite as complete as the Blood Incantation ritual.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oshiego - Crossing the Bridge of Siraat

Oshiego is a death metal band which has a distinct flair and is strong in structured songwriting. Riffs are driven by sharp, slightly "exotic" melodies - but rarely harmonies - paired with percussive death/thrash riffs. The style feels somewhat familiar, though unique enough to make it hard to draw direct parallels. Akin to the newer takes on old school death metal from the late 90s/early 00s, this is a good take on it.

Oshiego is old-school in style - the songs are based around ideas of on guitar, then mirrored in instrumentation on bass and drums. Rather than a modern approach, where the heaviness of production provides a wrenching and thrashing percussiveness and is repeated, the concepts originate from melodies on guitar.

The Oshiego trademark is to phrase an exotic melody as a guitar riff, then initiate a call-and-response push/pull with percussive guitar riffs. The melodies and the moods they inflect are unique to this band, but are reminiscent of Atheist's more melodic bits, or perhaps the better-phrased moments of Death. These are paired appropriately with thrashier death metal riffs akin to Master or Carnal Forge. The exotic tonality is easy to equate to Nile, but Oshiego doesn't have the long-winded or aggressively overdone attributes of Nile. Perhaps that is for the better, as the drum machine is met well by the extremely tight guitar and bass playing.

The songwriting provides a necessary dynamic to the single-songwriter/single-player sound. The rhythms here are very tight, and it is apparent that there is one man playing the quad-tracked guitars and bass along to a well-programmed drum track. The contrast to this is that, unlike most bands of the style who repeat 2-3 part song structures (i.e. ABAB-AB or ABC-ABC) Oshiego nest contrasting two-part sections inside of other parts. Rather than simple verse-chorus structures expanding upon that with pre-choruses, transitions, and reprises, the songs aren't chorus-oriented. There are definite structures here, but each of the 2-3 primary parts are structured with those push/pull, call-and-response riffs which emphasize melody and rhythm. This is what separates the band from many of the otherwise comparable late 90s/early 00s not-quite-oldschool death metal bands like Repugnant and Krisiun.

This is a standout album because it is distinct, built outward from the melodies and guitar riffs. While it doesn't match up to the greatest death metal albums, it is a contrast to a trend in death metal of emulating aesthetics and riffing style with no greater purpose. Perhaps it is for the best that it is not overbearing in tone nor atmosphere, because this reflects best on the themes of the music itself rather than simply aiming to strike once. Crossing the Bridge of Siraat is a journey worth taking.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chronovorus - To Those Who Dwell in Ruin

Chronovorus’ To Those Who Dwell in Ruin is an enjoyable, albeit brief, EP that invokes the tried-and-true atmosphere of Lovecraft. The band’s variety of black/doom metal is very much in the same vein as the mighty Predatory Light. Murky, cavernous, you know the drill. However, Chronovorus really has a much more major sounding vibe than their contemporaries, and thankfully they don’t milk it to the point of being a gimmick.

In this sense, the music tends to break away from the usual moods associated with the style and forges its own unique atmosphere. The obvious meaning behind the band’s name and imagery of Jupiter's sulfurous moon Io; these things doesn’t exactly scream Lovecraft stereotypes, but they still work. Chronovorus’ musical identity follows their aesthetics, a slightly different angle on familiar themes.

Mixing black and doom metal isn’t always easy though, and Chronovorus get tripped up by their own overwhelming sense of doomy languor. This is a bit of a problem because parts of the music sometimes lose black metal’s atmosphere. Take “A Star Oath” for example. It starts the EP off slow. Really. Really. Slow. The EP also closes out with the same exact problem. Given that the first and third track are ambient pieces, this doesn’t leave much meat (a third of the play time is ambient). However, they aren’t exactly filler track because the rumbling vocals and damp noises immerse you in the band’s imagery, making you feel like you are overhearing a subterranean demonic conversation.

Despite the sizable amount of ambience and the boringly slow sections, the EP still feels too short. This is a testament to the strength and identity of the rest of the material. Soaring high melodies on the guitar, lush even bass, and impressively sustained echoey vocal rasps help to temporarily raise the mix out of the muck. In the moments like these, the EP really hits its stride, and these aspects of Chronovorus’ sound ought to be further developed. To Those Who Dwell in Ruin is best when it manages to distinguish itself without sacrificing the core strengths of black or doom metal.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Interview with Yixja of Dalla Nebbia and Mesmur

Dalla Nebbia - Felix Culpa (2015)
Apteronotus: A lot of musicians and bands aim to get signed to a record label, and obviously most of them never will. You’ve done it twice with Dalla Nebbia (Razed Soul Productions) and more recently with Mesmur (Code666 Records). How did the label deals come about, and do you have any suggestions for other bands trying to get their music out there, especially bands with lineups that don’t allow for touring?

Yixja: Well it can definitely be a challenge to find a label these days, due to the sheer number of bands releasing albums and to the fact that fewer people are buying records. And like you mentioned, a lot of labels don’t like to work with musicians who don’t tour. My deals with Razed Soul and Code666 came simply from emailing the labels demos of our music though. My suggestion if trying to get signed would be to take care to be articulate in your contact with the label, using descriptive language to grab the reader’s attention and give them an idea of what to expect when hearing your music for the first time. The biggest hurdle is getting them to first notice you over the countless other demos they’re probably receiving every day.

A: Dalla Nebbia is definitely a band that crosses a lot of traditional genre lines (obvious examples include the soft organ section on “The Banner of Defiance,” and the entire song “Das Gelächter Gottes.”) Do you think that working around genre boundaries is artistically necessary or that there is a risk of going overboard with a jumble of different ideas?

Yixja: I don’t think working outside of genre boundaries is “artistically necessary” in general, but it depends on the project. I’ve always enjoyed metal bands that blur the lines between genres, and even some non-metal bands like Mr. Bungle and Estradasphere that ignore genre lines completely. But whether or not there’s a risk of going overboard depends on the goals of the project. We didn’t want to be limited by the constraints of traditional black metal, but at the same time wanted to preserve a certain consistency of atmosphere to the music. The organ section of The Banner of Defiance and the glitchy electronic direction of Das Gelächter Gottes fit within the musical narrative we were trying to create on the album, and though they may seem unusual for the black metal they were really not much of a departure in tone and mood. And yes, for us there could absolutely be a possibility of going overboard, in taking a stylistic turn that doesn’t work for the song or album. Even with the eclectic nature of our influences, Felix Culpa has an overall gloomy tone, shifting between melancholic and angry, and a surf rock break in the middle of a song inspired by the Jonestown massacre would probably not be appropriate.

Mesmur - Mesmur (2014)
A: Along that same line of thought, why was Mesmur formed as a new project rather than incorporating those ideas into Dalla Nebbia?

Yixja: I’ve been a big fan of the death doom and funeral doom genres for quite a while, and I’ve had interest for some time in attempting to write music in this style. Opportunity arose when we had a period of Dalla Nebbia downtime, as we waited for Zduhac to finish some vocal parts. It began as simply playing around with some ideas on the side, but the songs for Mesmur’s debut came together very naturally and quickly, and even though death/doom influence has been a part of Dalla Nebbia’s sound from the beginning these songs felt like a completely different animal. Dalla Nebbia’s drummer Alkurion was immediately on board for the project, and after the songs Osmosis and Lapse were written musically and we had contacted Chris G about joining as vocalist, we decided this material would work best if we kept the new project somewhat constrained by genre conventions, rather than the more “free” stylistic approach of Dalla Nebbia. There is still some amount of experimentation, and I’d say that the songs each have their own personality and character, but for the most part they don’t venture very far outside of the death/funeral doom realm.

A: Does that fact that you are collaborating with other musicians influence how you go about writing? By that I mean structurally, like leaving some extra repetition for a vocal section to go over or having a straightforward section to allow another musician to punch in.

Yixja: Well I’m focused 90% on the instrumental part of the music when I write, but I do keep in the back of my mind a general idea of which parts NEED vocals to work, and which parts should remain instrumental. Sometimes this vague blueprint changes once Zduhac gets his hands on the song though, and occasionally this can mean adding or cutting repetitions of sections. When I program drum and bass parts for the initial demos I either leave it simple, or I put in my suggestions for the parts, and then Alkurion and Tiphareth improve on them with their ideas. Same goes for the violin parts on Felix Culpa. I had some synth violin parts in place when Sareeta went to work, but she elaborated on my ideas, and in some places arranged brand new parts that I would have never come up with.

A: Suppose you have a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar. What do you do?

Yixja: Great question! I know many people are opposed to the killing of animals for any reason, but I think it all depends on the context, and the kid’s attitude. If he is reveling in the killing of the butterflies, and lighting up when he talks about that part, then he may need psychological help. If he’s doing it out of a genuine interest in science and a desire to learn about nature, then I say more power to him. If the latter is the case, he sounds about like me as a kid. And at least he’s not hiding the jar and lying to himself and others about what’s occurring.

A: In a prior interview you had mentioned that a lot of the songs on Felix Culpa were written before 2013. Which songs were written more recently, and have you noticed any changes in your songwriting as the project has developed?

Yixja: I don’t think the writing has changed very much through the course of putting this album together, but there were definitely changes in the songwriting from our debut to Felix Culpa. The first Felix Culpa song we wrote was Abandoned Unto Sky, and we could have included it on the first record if we wanted, but we decided it didn’t fit the feel of those songs. That song and the second one we wrote, Lament of Aokigahara, sort of served as a general template of where we wanted to go on this album. The last ones finished were Paradise in Flames, the title track, and The Banner of Defiance. Generally speaking, in place of the acoustic guitars and ringing melodies of our first album, Felix has more of a focus on dense layers of atmosphere, fluid dynamics within the songs, and emotional content conveyed by consonant and dissonant harmonies. I tried to keep the focus and approach consistent during the writing of the album, even though I worked on other things here and there between the time the album was started and completed.

A: Do you think that Dalla Nebbia’s lineup would benefit from having any additional members or instruments or do you prefer the flexibility of having guest appearances like those from Sareeta and Aort?

Yixja: I prefer to have a core lineup of guitar/bass/drums/keyboard/vocals and work with guest musicians beyond that, to give us the flexibility to go in different directions on future material. I really enjoyed working with Sareeta, and believe she added a great deal to our sound, but at this point I can’t really speak for what we’re going to do on future recordings, and whether violin will continue to be appropriate. If there’s a place for violin in future material, I guarantee Sareeta will be the first person I talk to about it.

A: You’re a big King Crimson fan, if you had to choose between Robert Fripp’s guitar work and Adrian Belew’s, who do you think has an approach that you relate to more as a musician?

Yixja: As you can probably tell from my playing, I relate most to Fripp’s calculated, mathematical approach to guitar. That being said, I especially love when Fripp and Belew work together in tandem, whether it’s the polyrhythmic noodling of their 80’s albums, or something like The Construkction of Light, where their parts lock together like pieces of a puzzle. To be honest, there’s not a KC period I’m not a fan of though.

A: Thanks a ton for doing this interview, do you have any parting words or are there bands that you’d like to recommend/namedrop?

Yixja: Hmm, bands to recommend… I’ve been listening to Gris a lot lately, as well as the Russian atmospheric death/doom band Mare Infinitum. I’ve also been really into the one-man Italian act Chiral, which kind of reminds me of the best parts of Lustre and Falls of Rauros, but with some really experimental instrumentation like harmonica and trumpet. Anyway, the interview has been my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Twist Ending - Musica Di Morte (2014 Demo)

Twist Ending's Musica Di Morte demo is a brilliant mashup of punk infused death thrash and Italian giallo film samples. The perpetrators here are likely familiar faces: Vanessa Nocera (Razorback Records, Wooden Stake) handles the guitars and bass, Gregg Metzger of Lincoln Love Log fame provides drumming, and Stevo (Impetigo, Church Of Misery) handles non-sample vocals where necessary. The horror movie influences of Stevo and Nocera are in beautiful full bloom. We are gifted a rather sneakily addicting raunchy listen which is very memorable thanks to the samples but also the appropriately scuzzy riffs.

Hearing the immediately familiar theme from Black Belly of the Tarantula open the tape was a relief. I'm not as educated as I likely should be in the 60's and 70's Italian giallo genre but this is one film which I have seen. It really helped draw me into the vibe the tape attempts to portray. "Tormentula (La Tarantola Dai Ventre Nero)" opens the demo with a crooning sample of the movie score before disappearing into edits of narrations from the movie over the promulgation of mid-paced death thrash riffs. Stevo spits more than growls the vocals throughout the demo, and does so here as well. "Shadow In The Gallery" is probably the most metallic of the tracks, as the short preface leads into a crossover thrash riff which completes the rest of the track aside from twenty seconds of children's' humming at the end. Fourth track is a total mash up of samples, no metal or punk material at all.

The best track here is definitely "Evil Iris, Summoner Of Misery." From the very beginning we get a plunky bass line from Nocera and steady drum beat with samples underneath perfectly paired. Samples overlap segments through the rest of the song, which repeat the catchy riff, now with a flanged distorted guitar layering. There is a very definitive garage-metal vibe to the instrumental aspects of this release which uplift the samples to a higher vantage by imbuing them with grit lost when not accompanied by images. At the very least, Twist Ending have motivated me to check out the movies sampled, but I expect I'll be returning to tracks from this for the foreseeable future. Great demo. Love the look of the cover and the blood red tape with black imprint is a detailed touch. Nice tapes are predictable from No Visible Scars though, so be sure to grab this one there.